Friday, June 27, 2008

Friday Poetry: Carl Sandburg

I've never loved him, but I guess I need to do this as I move out of Chicago.

Carl Sandburg

HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;

Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse.
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What's In Store

Today, I went to a storage company with whom I'd made a tentative reservation, only to learn that before renting to me (but after they'd had me sign a couple of the preliminary papers) they would need my fingerprints. The storage company's manager said that they would keep them secure, but wanted to have them available for the Department of Homeland Security, since, after all, we are so close to the Sears Tower, and all the terrorist attacks started with things like rented storage units. The woman in question snuck it into the conversation casually, so casually that I questioned my own hesitation. I left the office to call my parents and my roommate; my roommate had never heard of such a thing, and nor had her co-workers. At which point I apologized for taking up the woman's time, requested a return of my $10 deposit, the copy of my driver's license, and the two preliminary papers I had thus far signed, all of which were given calmly and politely. I left, lugging the two boxes that I, without a car, had optimistically brought with me, and remain slightly concerned about what she'd managed to enter into the computer, and what she kept. Compared to her behavior earlier, she was just a little bit too polite.

Not that the information she had isn't easily accessible to the government or other intrusive agencies anyway, even without the Patriot Act. But something about having it all in the hands of a private company that feels fingerprinting its customers is its right makes me nervous.

Upon arriving home with my two heavy boxes weighing on the thumb I injured last night (I had the good fortune of having a serious conspiracy-theorist cab driver on the way back up, making my own alarm feel not nearly so ridiculous), I began to look for other storage companies in the area, and my friend M called. I told her how frustrated I was by this occurrence and this renewed search. She pretty much laughed at my outrage, saying that if I was going to be that specific, I was going to have to accept that it took more time. "Would you give a private storage company your fingerprints?" I asked. She responded that there was no reason to have a problem with it if she wasn't doing anything illegal. I said that it was a short step from believing that about a storage company to believing it about government surveillance. Which she then said she pretty much did. She thought that as long as she wasn't breaking any laws, there was no real reason to be concerned. She recognized the potential for abuse, yes, but she didn't think it was that big a deal.

"I wish you the best," I said.

I come to this point with this particular friend a lot, where we assume we share politics until it comes down to the specifics, or nitty-gritty, or whatever. But we also get to the fortunate point where we ask each other why. At this point, she did. So I had to answer.

Once again recognizing that the fact that something is logical does not make it right, the argument/feeling she presented was perfectly logical with a given postulate. And that postulate is that what is law is right. If everybody who was doing something illegal was automatically doing something wrong, and conversely, everybody who was doing everything legally was doing nothing wrong, there would be no reason to be concerned about surveillance. But the amazing thing about laws is they're made by humans (even if you believe that law comes directly from the word of God, they're certainly enforced first by humans), and we prefer some humans over others, sometimes in individuals, sometimes in races or genders or beliefs or types, and as such law that comes from humans has to be somewhat slanted. Constant surveillance, or the constant possibility of surveillance, therefore always has tremendous potential for abuse. Should we make decisions in our lives based on the potential for abuse? Generally, no, or at least we should try to weigh the options based on genuine facts rather than sensationalist fear (I've been pretty interested in Free-Range Kids for this discussion lately), but when you know you mistrust many of the people making the laws—which my friend certainly does—you want to approach with caution anything that could voluntarily give them more ammunition to make laws that come from a perspective you mistrust. If you have an inherent mistrust of corporations as a social force, which I do, and even greater mistrust of that force in combination with a government that you also mistrust, you want to take such requests/requirements as were presented to me at this storage company with a full shaker of salt.

You also might want to make your sentences less convoluted than I just did.

But my point still stands. The question on the table is whether you think "I'm not doing anything wrong" is the same thing as "I'm not doing anything illegal." If you consider those two equivalent, and I guess you're within your rights to do so, go ahead and give the storage facility your fingerprints. And you're right, in all likelihood nothing bad *will* happen to you as a result. But if you've any doubt about whether "wrong" and "illegal" are in fact synonymous, please join me in finding another storage company.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I Swear to God It's Still Friday Poetry: Stephen Dunn

I've been packing all day. And watching movies, like The Holiday and Idiocracy. Focus is not my thang. But the last two lines of this poem have been almost constantly in my head nowadays. (Angelique, if perchance you're reading this, could you share it with Louise? I mentioned it to her . . .)


Stephen Dunn
A Primer for Swimming at Black Point

The bottom drops off quickly
and you're in over your head
among the crosscurrents,
the floating sea plants.
This is where to swim, though,
if you can, the water cold enough
to stir in you what's sleeping,
the fir trees on the other side
grand and achievable.
Just think of your fear
as alertness, and be happy for it.
Without fear it's often tempting
to believe the water cares
about you; in its movement
your mother's voice.
Consider getting out then.
It will never tell you
this intimacy cannot go on.
And when you get out
there'll be no evidence
you were ever in, just a
tingling, an aliveness
that hints insurrection
in the deepest parts of you,
and it too will pass.
Don't expect to know more
than your body has absorbed.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday Poetry: Rita Dove

Rita Dove

Although it is night, I sit in the bathroom, waiting.
Sweat prickles behind my knees, the baby-breasts are alert.
Venetian blinds slice up the moon; the tiles quiver in pale strips.

Then they come, the three seal men with eyes as round
As dinner plates and eyelashes like sharpened tines.
They bring the scent of licorice. One sits in the washbowl,

One on the bathtub edge; one leans against the door.
"Can you feel it yet?" they whisper.
I don't know what to say, again. They chuckle,

Patting their sleek bodies with their hands.
"Well, maybe next time." And they rise,
Glittering like pools of ink under moonlight,

And vanish. I clutch at the ragged holes
They leave behind, here at the edge of darkness.
Night rests like a ball of fur on my tongue.

Friday, June 06, 2008

And Just for the Heck of It, A Few More Sharks

These include the contributions of many people. Feel free to add your own. If you want one, you should go shopping at Sharksmart; once you get it, you could move together to Mansfield Shark and go shopping at a sharkuterie. But if you think I'm crazy for getting so into this, you're probably right. I need electroshark therapy.

Sharkus Aurelius
Sharko Polo
Deepak Sharkra
Shark Twain
Sharc Anthony
Alexander the Great White
Sharkus Garvey
George Sand Shark
George Bernard Shark
Barry Great White
Hermione Graner Shark
Charles Sharkley
Harpo, Groucho, Chico and Zeppo Sharx
Senator Tom Sharkin
Karl Sharx
Sharklotte's Web
Joan of Sharc
Sharquille O'Neill
Def Leppard Shark
Sharknia Twain
Donnie Sharko
Reverend Al Sharkton

Friday Poetry: Paul Muldoon

Paul Muldoon

The snail moves like a
Hovercraft, held up by a
Rubber cushion of itself,
Sharing its secret

With the hedgehog. The hedgehog
Shares its secret with no one.
We say, Hedgehog, come out
Of yourself and we will love you.

We mean no harm. We want
Only to listen to what
You have to say. We want
Your answers to our questions.

The hedgehog gives nothing
Away, keeping itself to itself.
We wonder what a hedgehog
Has to hide, why it so distrusts.

We forget the god
Under this crown of thorns.
We forget that never again
Will a god trust in the world.

Your New Bicycle

I am pretty pleased about Barack Obama.

I don't really have much to say about him or the fascinating forthcoming race just yet, but because this blog started with the disappointing results of the last presidential election I ought to at least track some thoughts.

Firstly, I think the man deserves it. From what friends who have canvassed for him, he runs an excellent campaign, pays people fairly, has strong volunteer support. In public, he's confident without ever being smeary, he's a good and thoughtful speaker, he's got strong policy ideas, and he inspires others. That sounds like just about what we need.

From what I know now, I can very easily imagine Barack Obama beating John McCain. First of all, I think worrying about race/racist voters is silly, because there is not a strong bloc of racist voters who wouldn't have chosen to vote otherwise, but will come out to vote against Obama. On the other hand, there is likely a very strong bloc of African-American voters both young and old, and a decent one of formerly disaffected college students of many races, who would not otherwise have voted but will come out specifically *to* vote for Obama. In spite of the ludicrous
"Hussein" debacle, on the macrocosmic national level I'm pretty sure race can only work in his favor, if it does anything one way or the other.

This isn't to say, of course, that campaigns against him won't contain a lot of subtler racism, the way they, you know, have already. Relatively speaking, Obama really *is* a Washington outsider—not a political outsider, but a Washington one—and we've already seen Clinton use that in combination with his race in a pretty tricky and creepy way. Mr. McCain, however respectful he was regarding all the "Hussein" crap, is not going to stay that way forever; in fact, he's likely to be quite sneakily two-faced about it, given his record on things like torture. (Read the full text of the Military Commissions Act, then talk to me about John McCain.) No form of public, blatant racism is at all accepted in the mainstream media (whereas I would argue that you can still get away with certain forms of blatant, public sexism, several of which we saw used on the Clinton campaign), but I imagine there will be some underhanded manipulations. I just don't think that they'll work very well.

And on the other hand, I generally find both gentlemen quite respectful in their personal interactions, and I've seen no evidence that either has ever been a smear campaigner. Both the Obamabots and the Hillarybots are ridiculously hostile (two notes to this: A1, that my frustration with using the male candidate's last name and the female candidate's first does not apply when I'm talking about "-bots," and B2, that "-bots" does not refer to every supporter of either—I believe I offended a friend with my casual use of the term "Obamabot" a couple of weeks ago), but only in Clinton's campaign did it seem to extend to the candidate herself, and even then not as much as everyone said it did. So it's going to be pretty interesting to see them try to take one another down respectfully, and whether it works.

I can't say I'm *excited* yet about the notion of Barack Obama as president; I wish I could, and probably with some closer engagement with the man and his work I'll be able to. A McCain presidency would be an extension of the Bush presidency with better public speaking and slightly higher-quality diplomacy, but I'd rather not vote against someone again. I don't need Barack Obama to be my new bicycle, and I chafe against people who try to tell me that he should be, with the result that I just plain don't know enough—I've become an observer of style and social trends surrounding the man, rather than the man himself. Fortunately, I have five months to change that. (Anybody have any particularly good sources for learning about him, aside from his own books?)

But I am excited about the campaign. Whether or not a Barack Obama presidency would be a radical change for America, he is unprecedented in my lifetime, both as a black candidate and a genuine political inspiration to a younger generation. We're going to see a lot of polarities at play in this campaign, and I imagine it's going to be, and stay, genuinely exciting. That's pretty bloody awesome, and historical, and I'm happy to be around and awake for it.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Public Service Announcement

Okay, the knowledge that I now have a driver's license perhaps does not particularly serve the public, but it is nevertheless being announced.





Seriously. I do.